Design, finally, takes centre-stage for wondrously Gallic DS3 Crossback

12-Feb-2019


Admitting to intense cynicism, when the DS remit was first mooted, Iain Robertson is now totally satisfied that the brand’s separation from its former Citroen lineage is continuing apace, with its latest compact and premium crossover model.

It is too easy to be superficial about motorcars. After all, in these times of ‘usership’, rather than ‘ownership’ taking precedence, the prospect for ‘cars-as-white-goods’ has never been more prevalent. Steeped in style tradition, the majority of French car designs could be said to have lost their senses of direction over the past few years, which might lead to faltering sales, especially in the busy company car sector.

Not helped by a desperate series of market pleas, for consumers to accept that the French might be able to produce cars that could rival the best from Germany, both Renault and PSA Group (Citroen, Peugeot and, latterly, DS) appeared to forget what had made Gallic motorcars ‘great’ in their own inimitable ways. While the Germans would never tolerate rattling door handles and electrics semi-permanently on-the-blink, they could not produce the luxuriant, billowing interiors of super-comfortable French motorcars. When you factor-in ride quality, the Germans are exceedingly good at sorting out autobahn high-speed handling but tend to lose the plot on the tortuous twisties between the wine valleys. The French used to be relied upon for the magic carpet.

When you consider that Peugeot had become chrome-bling-laden and Citroen had even perfected a German accent, my hopes for a wider bridge between the corporate brands were looking futile. Then, the company announced that it was going to ‘do a Lexus’ and introduce an up-market DS line. Seldom to be relied upon for their sometime flights of fantasy, I put down the proposition somewhat faster than PSA management lowered their wineglasses from their lips.

So, beat me up, why don’t you! I make no apology for questioning the viability of the DS brand, as I would not be doing my job, were I to accept its inception blindly. However, last year, DS7 woke me from my torpor. Inescapably French, from its revolving dashboard clock, to its dancing headlamps array, it was and is a car that is as Gallic as Gauloises cigarettes and grands fromage chevre from the Massif Central.
Having tolerated the first DS3, a pseudo warm hatchback that was as faulted as any XR2, DS7’s baby brother now joins the fray, in DS3 Crossback guise; a pseudo off-roader. To be honest, there is almost no other more appropriate place in which to photograph the car but the centre of the French capital, Paris. Avoiding the gilets jaunes but revelling in the mid-19th Century backdrop of Georges-Eugene Haussman and his view of ‘modern’ Paris, the DS3 Crossback is an antidote to up-market design tendencies that lack integrity and national identity.

Taking personalisation as its core attribute, no less than five main trim variants are available from the outset (prices start at £21,550, rising to £32,450): DS Montmartre, DS Bastille, DS Performance Line, DS Rivoli, DS Opera and, for an ultimate expression, with the two models in La Première Limited Edition trim (laden to the gunwales with gear from £32,450 to £33,950). Mixing and matching colours and materials inside as well as outside the car, DS has taken an haute couture approach to meeting individual ownership tastes and requirements.

Crack open the flush-mounted and powered door-handles (standard across the line-up) and the interior décor creates a chic, modern finish in part-grained or full-grain Nappa leather, complete with ‘Art Leather’ detailing, top-stitching in a pearl, or diamond, pattern, with braided textiles, Alcantara elements, a steering wheel fully upholstered in full-grain hide, including the airbag cushion and chrome trim features with a Paris Hobnail guilloche design. Oh, come on! This is what French cars have been crying out for, over the past 30 years. It could not get more Gallic, unless its name was Quasimodo and it was suspended from the pediments of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Externally, specific notes, such as the signatures on the bonnet and lower doors, or the chrome trim features at the front and at the rear of DS3 Crossback, with a choice of gloss, satin, or textured shimmering black finishes, catch the eye in an attractive, rather than overtly conscious manner. Inevitably, because even the most talented of designers understand subtlety, the coherent Frenchness is carried over in the cabin’s centre console, which is inherited from the DS7 Crossback. Elegant and stylish, its gearbox controls, toggle switches and electric handbrake meet day-to-day occupant needs, with a smartphone charging pad, an array of storage compartments that include cup-holders and a broad, functional sliding centre armrest.

Three petrol three-cylinder engines (101, 131, 155bhp), a four-pot turbo-diesel (102bhp) and a future all-electric (136bhp) powertrain motivate DS3 Crossbacks, which drive through a manual 6-speed gearbox in base petrol and diesel forms but 8-speed fully-automatic transmissions for the higher-power petrols and a CVT for the forthcoming EV. If these read like odd choices, they are as much to with market shift as they are with reducing CO2 emissions levels, which range from 97 to 128g/km. The official combined fuel economy range is from 45.7 to 62.7mpg.

Do not look for blistering performance figures, as top speeds range from 112 to 129mph, with 0-60mph times from 12.2 to 8.9s. There is no burning desire within DS for its moderately spacious DS3 Crossback to burn tarmac, after all, it has taken style as its priority and even the possibility of tearing up gravel tracks is managed by little more than PSA’s selectable, front-driven, traction control.

Yet, despite my lightly closeted feelings about the French, my Paul of Tarsus moment, which commenced with DS7, continues into the sparkling new DS3 Crossback. I truly like it and I am glad that the French are not driving themselves into a corner, from which extrication would be difficult. DS has opened the order book for the new DS3 Crossback, with deliveries commencing in the UK, in late-May. The E-Tense EV model will not be available until later in the year, at which time its price will also be revealed.